King’s Lynn – George Vancouver Statue

George Vancouver (1757-1798) was born in King’s Lynn and was the sixth and youngest child of John Jasper Vancouver. The legacy of Vancouver today is not insubstantial, he has a major city in Canada, a large US city, two mountains and a shopping centre in King’s Lynn all named after him. I’m not sure which he would have been most thrilled at, but I do wonder what his family would have thought if they could have known how widely their name has been used.

Becoming an apprentice in the navy, Vancouver served on ships captained by James Cook and was on the ship when Europeans first saw the Hawaiian islands. He also fought during the Battle of the Saintes, part of the American Revolutionary Wars, which was a little bit of a disaster for the French navy and quite a success in a small way for Vancouver himself.

© The Trustees of the British Museum

From the ‘A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean’ book written by Vancouver, this is Mount Rainier which was named after his friend, Admiral Peter Rainier. This was part of the expedition that was led by Vancouver, when he commanded HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham, which set sail on 1 April 1791 and didn’t return until September 1795. That must have been some cruise… It also seems that Vancouver managed not to annoy the residents of the areas that he visited and was also respectful of the natives and their lands. He seems to have been quite a forward thinker, and also a popular man from the accounts that I’ve seen.

Vancouver died on 10 May 1798, perhaps not getting the praise that he deserved for his navigational efforts. Although, he did get quite a lot of stuff named after him, including the shopping centre in King’s Lynn, so he hasn’t been entirely forgotten. He was buried at St Peter’s Church in Petersham, near London, and his grave is now Grade II listed. It’s notable though that the press made nearly no mention of his death, his legacy was forgotten very quickly and didn’t really strengthen again until the twentieth century.

So, with this great heritage and something that King’s Lynn should be rightfully proud of, it was no surprise that many locals though Vancouver Quay would be a fine name for the new development that was being planned in the harbour area of the town. West Norfolk Council disagreed, they liked Nelson Quay, because Nelson visited the town once. Nelson has absolutely no other connections with King’s Lynn, but this little issue hasn’t deterred the council. I liked the comment from a local community group who said “they may as well call the project John Glenn Quay – he must have flown over the borough at some stage of his space exploration.”

Anyway, back to the actual sculpture rather than my musings about the local council, which frankly aren’t entirely relevant here. The statue was placed here in 2000 and it was designed by Penelope Reeve, with the plinth made of stone from the Pacific West Coast of Canada.